Beloved storyteller Stuart McLean drew inspiration from his time as a camp counselor

Beloved Canadian storyteller and radio host Stuart McLean died at age 68 on Wednesday, leaving behind a body of work that was partially inspired by his summers as a camp counselor at Camp YMCA Kanawana.

McLean, who often drew comparisons to Garrison Keillor, was best known for his fictional radio show The Vinyl Cafe and used his celebrity status to help send children to the camp where he spent five summers in the ’60s and ’70s by establishing a scholarship fund.

The scholarship fund page on the camp’s website quotes him talking about his time at the camp:

“Probably because there were no parents here. And whatever I did that summer, whatever choices and decisions I made, I had to make them for myself and by myself. And you know what it is like at Kanawana. There are all these great people, and theyseemed to like me, and before long, I couldn’t help myself, before long I started to trust myself.  And believe in my self. And most importantly, like myself.”

Kanawana posted a tribute to McLean on its Facebook page on Thursday, noting that he recorded an episode of his radio show in the camp’s dining hall in 2005 and made frequent visits to the camp. He was given the camp’s PIP award as someone who reflected the camp’s values in his life after camp.

“Stuart embodied our camp motto, Non nobis solum,” the Facebook post reads. “He helped make the world better through storytelling, by helping us see connection where there is division, compassion where there might be fear or anger, and helped us appreciate the humour and humility of life (we’re not big, we’re small), as well as our place in it all.”

His family is asking that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the scholarship fund, which can be done here.

Photo of McLean by Alana Elliott, via Wikimedia Commons

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at and I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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